Mastering The Art of Athlete Sponsorship With Emy Casaletti-Bwalya

Optimize CEO Emy Casaletti-Bwalya delivering her keynote address at the 2023 gsport Business Breakfast, at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandton, on 22 September, 2023. Photo: Rebecca Hearfield (c) gsport 2023

Very few people understand and have mastered the art of athlete representation. To “sell” the brand of an athlete is no easy task. Particularly, in a world where sponsors have to be convinced extra harder, to buy into a female athlete or team, in comparison to their male counterparts. 

Optimize CEO and winner of the Woman in PR and Sponsorship category at the 2023 Momentum gsport Awards, Emy Casaletti-Bwalya, is one of the few that have mastered the art. Her greatest example is how she partnered with Two-time Grand Slam champion Kgothatso Montjane, to take her brand to the next level and secure lucrative deals while taking steps that will improve her game. 

“When approaching brands, we had to create awareness of KG as an athlete and her abilities, and then create awareness of the sport.”

Optimize CEO, Emy Casaletti-Bwalya

“KG is such a positive person and that has led to a fruitful journey for us as a Team. We knew that we had to take steps to build KG’s brand and that was exactly what we did from day one. We had to create an awareness of her, her abilities and generate funds for her,” this strategy has led to Montjane signing multiple sponsorship deals in recent time.

And on the journey to greatness they faced plenty of challenges: “Sponsors were not keen to take on individuals given the Oscar Pistorius story so it was a couple of years earlier. We had societal challenges. Wheelchair tennis is not seen as a sexy sport. It’s not taken too seriously. It’s seen as charity. Then there was lack of support for disabled sport in general. Minimal media coverage and exposure. And the sporting body itself was unable to support and manage the athletes,” Casaletti-Bwalya elaborates.


In 2018, the best Montjane had done in her career was coming achingly close to Grand Slam Glory but with so many obstacles the major titles were elusive. For example she found herself without a coach before her first Wimbledon competition. When she needed someone who could guide her in some technical aspects, there was no one. It goes without saying that a coach plays a vital role for an athlete, not only physically but also mentally. 

At the 2023 gsport Business Breakfast hosted at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, attendees were treated to a Masterclass by Casaletti-Bwalya. She answered all the big questions you may have when you want to turn around an athletes brand to make it attractive to prospective sponsors. 

“I think sponsors want to embark on a journey, they want to come on board with a champion. They want to know your vision. You might not be a champion immediately, but if your vision is that you are going to become one, I think sponsors do want to come on board.”

When Casaletti-Bwalya joined forces with Montjane, these are the steps taken to build the a lucrative “KG Montjane brand” and it’s proven to work because today, Montjane is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most decorated athletes with a long list of sponsors and endorsements to her name. 

These are some of the tips and tricks and all the nuggets shared by Casaletti-Bwalya that we all need to implement to become game-changers in our own respect. 

1. Sponsorship is Misunderstood

A lot of sporting bodies, athletes, feel they’re entitled to sponsorship and that’s not the case. No one is entitled, no one has to give you money. You have to look introspectively and make yourself as market worthy as possible. 

2. Sponsorship is a Strategic Marketing Discipline Rooted in Business Principles

Sponsors want a return on investment unless it’s a CSI Project. “For KG, we went for sponsorship with a return on investment because we all know that sport is a vehicle to market. Never ever did we market her as a disabled athlete. We marketed her as a champion who plays tennis, who by chance was on a wheelchair.”

3. What is your Vision and Mission?

When Team Emy and KG started they coined their vision and mission: #RoadToGreatness. 

4. Have Business and Brand Objectives

You need to generate awareness for the achievements of the athlete. In Montjane’s case, The first brand objective was to generate funds for her. 

5. Clean Up your Brand

Taking from the leaf of Emy and KG – they came up with brand collateral. They got a website, business cards, focused on KG’s social media. They prepared a comprehensive sponsor proposal document, unlike the one that KG initially had. Embark on a very strong PR and media strategy. The Optimize CEO adds: “We tapped into all our contacts and gave her as much exposure as we could. Approached the sponsors and then we did the sponsor launch and send off a month.” Optimize managed KG’s PR and media all along while she was traveling. 

6. Change your Mindset

Positivity is key. Athletes need to walk the talk. You have to be extremely professional. For example, if like KG you get a car sponsor, the last thing your sponsors will want to see is their athlete driving with a cell phone on hand. Be careful with every action. Social media is a double edged sword. It can help you, but it can also cut you. 

7. Keep your Sponsor in the Loop 

Make sure your sponsor is kept up to date regarding the performance of the athlete(s). Win or lose, keep them up to speed. Perhaps if there are further challenges they can still come in handy and provide further assistance. 

Photo Caption: : Rebecca Hearfield (c) gsport 2023

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